Thinkin’ Back

My summer job for Uncle Shelly was to drive across the Brazos River, just above the falls, over the barely flowing river, to his ranch along Perry Creek, that was across the river, but still in Falls County and, at least, there was a concreted, low water crossing for my daily trips. Falls County is one of the few counties in Texas that spans a major, river, obviously a carryover from the Texas colonization days with Mexico. The good part was that taking this route eliminated a 20, mile drive through Marlin to the Perry Creek Ranch.

The trips were for checking the several hundred cattle on the ranch for screwworms, a blight on the cattle industry, and certain death if the grown animals weren’t treated within 5 to 7 days and a calf in 2 to 3! Screwworms were a terrible pestilence that hounded our State’s cattle industry until a cure was found.

The cure, developed at Texas A&M during the 1960’s, was the releasing of millions of sterile, male, screwworm flies. This procedure saved our cattle industry and spawned the terrific deer herds that we now have across Texas! Treatment was begun in 1962 and by 1966 screwworms were eradicated. Texas hasn’t had a recorded case of infestation since August 1, 1992.

Most days I’d pull a horse trailer and a saddled horse, spending my day in and out of the saddle, but behind the seat in the truck I always carried my fishing tackle because there were 2 stock tanks on the Perry Creek place that were full of bass. And even back then, I’d rather fish than eat! By late afternoon, after making my rounds and checking the cows for any evidence of screwworms, I’d stop by my favorite stock tank, get out my rod and reel, with my favorite plug, a Piggy Boat spinner bait, and make a few casts.

As the cows used the water up, it had been getting lower and lower, until most of the moss was gone and now I know that most of the oxygen was too! That particular day, my first cast was met with a solid strike and after a couple of jumps I reached down and slipped my fingers between the bass’ jaws. However, something was wrong with the bass, it had lost most of its coloration, was a pasty, white color with very little green showing. Throwing that pound and a halfer back in the tank, I made another cast and my spinner bait was gobbled up just as the bait hit the water and this one, a nice 2 pound bass made several leaps before I lipped it and same results, a lack of colorization.

Pitching the bass back in, I thought I’d better let Uncle Shelly know that the bass weren’t doing very well, but before I started the drive back it dawned on me to go check the other stock tank. Same results as the first, moss dying, water getting lower almost as I watched, greedy hungry bass with a lack of color and now I believe that the lack of oxygen and food caused this feeding trauma with the bass. Over supper we discussed the strange color of the bass, but couldn’t come up with an answer or reason.

During the epic drought of the 50’s the stock tanks never went completely dry, but fishing in them never returned to the excellence of past years. By the time the drought had broken, I had gone into the Army and Uncle Shelly had sold the ranch across the river. At least for me no more hazardous river crossings, but Shelly did tell me of once that when the water was flowing over a foot over the concrete, he drove his pickup and horse trailer across, scaring him sufficiently, so he came back the long way through town.

Also, now I know that in 1845 or 46, to enlist as a Texas Ranger following a border incursion by the Mexicans into Texas, one of my relatives, a great uncle, Buck Barry, crossed the Brazos, at this same spot, over a hundred years before, on a trip from Sulphur Springs to the new capital of the State, Austin. Between the two towns, that were well over 100 miles apart, the one settler he had seen along the trace had located at the falls of the Brazos, the same spot where I was standing!

It turned out the settler was the only survivor after a Comanche Indian raid and when Buck arrived on the scene, just missing the Indians, the settler had lost everything, his slaves, cattle, horses and women. This was Buck’s initiation to the Comanche’s and by far, not his last one!